Artworks Amsterdam

Birgit Verwer Artworks


When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by game shows on television. I watched grown ups play in a game show like their lives were at stake. My favorite was De Sterrenshow, with my host hero Willem Ruis running like a idiot from left to right the whole night, totally winding himself up, as if he was a participant himself who felt he was going to lose the game. During the show, Willem Ruis always shouted “stop the time!”. And to put it philosophically: Don’t we all want that? To stop the time?

What if life itself turned out to be a television game show? We want to win the things in life which are the most important to us. We want to control things, but sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it can slip through your fingers (you almost had it all) and sometimes you just didn’t have a chance at all or you didn’t have enough time to win… And what would we be we winning? A prize? Some time-out? The assurance or comfort of an inevitable death? Is it an all-or-nothing game? Let’s play the game without limits, leaving all our fears behind and stop wasting any more of our precious time!

We spend our valuable time in life in a consumer society which is attracted to power, money, television, and religion, while at the same time countries are at war and people are dying of starvation. Yet, we possess an irrepressible “Disney-hunger”, a desire to live a great and successful life. The world spins so fast these days and the overload and the pressure of our consumer economy forces us to live by the clock. But what about our own individual inner time, our needs and our rhythms? Do we know and feel what we really need? When is it enough? When are we fulfilled? What can silence and stillness do for our mental and physical health, well-being, creativity, love and pleasure? What if your own inner time asks you to forget about clock time? Can we control time, or even better, buy ourselves (more) time somewhere?

Photography: Gerhard Zervaas
These works will be part of the ‘Stil Even’ exhibition at Stedelijk Museum Zwolle. ‘Stil Even’ will be on view from 9-04 till 28-08.

Artworks Amsterdam | interview

Interview Artworks Amsterdam 20 June 2011
ARTWORKS Birgit Verwer

Birgit Verwer’s vivacious sculptures employ ideas of ritual, religious iconography and the surface glitz of 80s game shows. Her work features found materials, from taxidermied foxes to mannequins, old furniture and toys. Artworks spoke to the 38-year-old about society’s hopes, dreams and fears – and why she found herself driving a stuffed hog along the highway…

Your work often uses found materials – how do you select them? I mainly use materials which already have a history and soul but were discarded. I’m always on the lookout and I’ve developed a kind of internal scanning device. I find the most beautiful things in dumpsters on the street, at second-hand shops, auctions, eBay and flea markets in The Netherlands and abroad. Usually I have a specific goal but I also find the best materials by serendipity.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever found? A stuffed hog! As I’ve been searching for the most peculiar things for years now, I know that a complete hog in the condition I found this one is a rarity. I found it 50 kilometers from The Hague and it was hilarious driving home with it on the back seat. The hog’s face was looking out of the window with its nose against the glass. All the car drivers were going completely mad, laughing and making gestures; entertainment on the highway!

What interests you about the idea of game shows? I watched television game shows when I was young and I was fascinated by all the adults who participated like their lives were at stake. For me it’s like a metaphor for life. We all want a great life, to be successful, be loved, we want to “win” the things in life which are the most important to you. For everybody there are different assumptions. The bizarre thing however is the grand and final prize, the end of life, the only thing we all really and truly have in common.

You’ve mentioned your Roman Catholic upbringing… does this inform your work? The Gothic Roman Catholic church I went to when I was young had the same attraction as the television game shows. For me it was another impressive show with stunning decor in which we were taught the word of God. Both worlds, the Roman Catholic church and the television shows were very convincing and impressive. It eases your mind and delays your (everyday) problems and gives you hope for (even) better days, a great and beautiful life or perhaps the things after life. In my work I challenge that, but also our values, our consumer society; our hopes, dreams and fears.

What interests you in ideas of ritual? Today’s society is mainly focused on the development of the brain, on knowledge. But the most important things in life are things far from the brain, like soul, creativity, love and pleasure. A lot of people however don’t live and act from their hearts but from their brain. They seem to live in fear. I’m fascinated by that fear aspect. We’ve learned so much and try to learn more but we still don’t have the answers to our ultimate life questions: what is the meaning of life? Why is it going to end? And what will happen after life? Rituals can be of great value to worship the beautiful things in life but it also gives a form to deal with life and life questions.

Can you name some artists that influence you? There are too many but to name two completely different artists, Johan Tahon and Erwin Wurm.

What’s a usual working day like for you? I usually start by inspecting five second-hand shops in The Hague and the dumpsters on the street along the way. Than I go to my studio in a former office building – it’s a huge space in which I can make a big mess when I need to. I open up all the windows, make coffee and put on my music at an intolerable level and than I start working until late. In the afternoon there’s always a moment that I lie on the floor for an hour to rest and contemplate.

What are you working on right now? The hog I told you about before is part of a new ticketshop which will be showing at my solo exhibition at Livingstone gallery in The Hague, opening at the 4th of September. The ticketshop is the fourth one in a series of ticketshops in which stuffed animals sell tickets – the animals in my works refer to Christian symbolism.

What about the messages, or texts in your work? The texts are about everything I question, it’s an open dialogue about us and our world.

What’s the most interesting reaction you’ve had to your work? That someone asked me to marry him and it was not my boyfriend!

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be? This is the one question you can ask everybody but not an artist.

What was the last record you bought? John Zorn, Masada.

Name your favourite book? My childhood fairytale book The Magic Lantern. It’s from the 1970s and translated into Dutch from Italian. The tales and especially the drawings in the book are still inspiring!

What is your most treasured possession? Speaks for itself: the choice of enjoying life now, and not yesterday or tomorrow.

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